April 8, 2009

Deep sea mud volcano microbes studied

U.S. scientists say they've completed the first study of microbes living in deep sea volcanoes, where conditions may resemble extraterrestrial environments.

The Gulf of Mexico study was led by Professor Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia. The scientists collected fluid samples from the crater of an active mud volcano and from a brine pool that was previously a mud volcano. The researchers said those types of ecosystems are particularly hostile to much of life because they are void of light and oxygen, and are super-salty and bathed in noxious gases.

But the scientists said they discovered the mud volcano and brine pool each supported dynamic microbial communities that are not only distinct from each other, but also distinct from the microbial communities living in the surrounding ocean.

Here we have more fascinating examples of microbial life coping with very, very unusual environments -- regions of the ocean deeps that we can't help but describe as extreme or harsh, said Phillip Taylor of the National Science Foundation's Ocean Section, which partially funded the study. Such discoveries can't help but lead us to think that life beyond Earth is probable.

The research is reported in the journal Nature Geosciences.